TEACHING BY PRINCIPLES OR RULES?
T. PIERCE BROWN
If one learns only by rules, he may have a long, hard process. But if he first learns by principles and then applies the rules, he learns many things at one time. For example, if one learned that one times one equals one, that would be valuable to him if he ever needed to multiply that. Then he could learn that one times two equals two, and so on as long as his mental capacity could remember. But even if he got to 1000, he would not know what one times 2 million was! But if he learned THE PRINCIPLE that one times any numeral is equal to that numeral, he has learned millions of things at one time!
Many years ago I looked at a book on logic and saw a statement, “Every effect has a cause.” That sounded reasonably logical. Later, reading from Aristotle, I thought he did more justice to the subject when he indicated that every effect might have a formal cause, a material cause, an efficient or moving cause, and a final cause. But neither philosopher nor logician could adequately comprehend or express by human reasoning or language what God has so simply and satisfyingly taught in principle.
For example, denominational theology, though hopelessly contradictory and confusing, almost unanimously asserts that salvation is by faith only. The Methodist Discipline (p.71) summarizes that concept of most Protestant denominations as it says, “Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort.” Gospel preachers since Apostolic times have taught contrary to that doctrine, using not only James 2:17,24, but many other passages.
But in this article, we want to suggest that not only is the theory wrong from a scriptural standpoint, it is wrong philosophically, linguistically, logically, practically, pragmatically, or any other way one may view it. Stated in a simple mathematical way, the theory that salvation is by faith only might be: S=f(F), or Salvation is a function of Faith.
Students of Aristotle could do better than that, for they would have: S=f(formal, efficient, material and final causes), or Salvation is a function of those causes. Then they would have philosophized about God’s love being the formal cause, the blood of Christ the efficient cause, the gospel being the material cause and obedient faith being the final cause.
But a functional formula that is true, as far as we have been able to ascertain, for ANY effect is especially significant here. It is: E=f(a,b,c,d,etc.), or every EFFECT is a function of many causes. With regard to salvation it could be stated: S=f(love, blood, grace, gospel, faith, repentance, confession, baptism, etc.)
The PRINCIPLE that EVERY effect is a function of a multiplicity of causes is far-reaching in its implications and applications, not only religious, but also scientific, philosophical and sociological. For example, and eldership that looks at a member’s poor attendance and thinks, “Since every effect has A cause, we will search for THE cause,” will probably err grievously in trying to solve the problem, for his premise, E=f(C), is NEVER true. But since E=f(a, b, c, d, e, etc.) is ALWAYS TRUE, for every effect has many causes, if they think, “We will search for some CAUSES of this problem,” they may find some answers.
The parent who says, “Johnny does not get his homework because he is lazy” may have A TRUTH, but will always miss THE TRUTH, partly because the principle upon which he operates, E=f(C), is fundamentally wrong. Every effect does not have A cause, but many causes.
So, whether one is raising a question about what makes grass green, little girls giggle, a husband unfaithful, or Mr. Jones refuse to obey the gospel, one will discover he is much closer to a solution of the problem if he rejects the inadequate assumption that every effect has A CAUSE, and starts with the awareness that every effect has a MULTIPLICITY OF CAUSES.
It is a wonderful and even fantastic fact that in ANY area of knowledge that I have had the good fortune to pursue, almost ANY truth I have discovered has a simple and beautiful application in the scriptures. The Bible has nothing to fear from science, philosophy, or any other discipline if it is used properly, for the best in all of them can be applied in the simple application of God’s Word to our lives.